The 1974 travel chronicles of Max Williams: Woohoo we're off!

It’s been nearly a year since we made that weed-induced decision to head overseas. You wouldn’t believe how much work has been done to get this far.

Throughout the preparation, we have questioned whether it has been worth the effort. Because we are not travel savvy, we have no experience to call on, so everything has been a hassle and a steep learning curve.

The countless hours of research, the sleepless nights, obtaining visas and international licences, selling cars, organising money, youth hostel card, notifying change of address, finding a suitable cheap flight and the issues with inoculations, particularly my smallpox scraping still oozing pus after four weeks.

Furthermore, we all spent a couple of days in bed after our cholera and typhoid booster shots.

We have written to embassies, visited heaps of travel agents, argued about money, spent many evenings organising itineraries and picking the brains of many world travellers. Obviously back then there was no internet, Google or Wikipedia – everything was done by phone or foot slog.

Michael has termed our syndicate DUMM (short for Dana, Ursula, Max and Michael) – probably an apt acronym, given our “dopey” decision. He has diarised the DUMM syndicate as having chosen the butterfly as its symbol – “The butterfly is our symbol as it is a sign of their fervent desire to escape the cocoon of Australia and to sojourn over the many countries of the world.” Very deep Michael!

I even sew small fabric butterflies on the bottom of my flared blue jeans – so cool Max!

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Michael writes, “The oil crisis situation seems to be getting worse every day, which could affect our trip.” This may be a real issue since we plan to do extensive road travel.

We manage to get a cheap charter flight with Qantas, through the Australian Union of Students (AUS) travel company. We have paid just $298 (although that’s $2569.58 in today’s money!) each for a one-way ticket to Gatwick Airport, London. “Where the hell is Gatwick Airport, probably the far end of the earth?” writes Ursula.

The price includes a stopover in Singapore and two nights’ accommodation. So cheap, eh? Unfortunately, the old saying “you get what you pay for” becomes true. At this stage our flight out of Singapore has not been confirmed, and we have heard at the eleventh hour that our flight out of Melbourne may be cancelled. AUS has been no help at all. We must rock up at the airport and take potluck that our flight is active.

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We have got through all the preliminaries and now it’s time to go. Until … we get a phone call just hours before we leave, that my brother-in-law has been killed in a road accident in regional Victoria. My poor sister with children just two and four years old. We gather at the family home and all display deep emotions of grief. I remember it vividly and at the time felt very lost and confused. We consider not leaving but my sister says it’s okay, just go, you can’t change what’s happened.

We arrive at the airport with much anticipation. The board indicates that our flight to Singapore is a goer – woohoo! However, it has been delayed for two hours. The flight is miserable. I constantly think of the sad situation at home. This is a Qantas 707, one of Boeing’s early planes used on the ‘kangaroo’ route from Melbourne to London.

We leave Melbourne’s Tulla airport at the ungodly hour of 4.30am. No curfew in those days. For our first leg to Singapore, our knees are jammed up to the seat in front for 10 hours. There is no room to move. We get very little sleep on this packed flight. The passenger next to us in the three-seat configuration is throwing up the whole way into a bag. The smell of vomit is unbearable. At least we can smoke, so that relieves the situation somewhat.

We arrive in Singapore completely knackered after our unforgettable flight. No issues with customs but there were a few people who had to have their hair cut to enter the country. We have been awake for about 30 hours at this stage.

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Our budget hotel is no more than two stars. It is located next to the airport. There are frequent power outages. Planes fly overhead every couple of minutes. The ubiquitous oriental musty room smell pervades our nostrils.  The air conditioning is freezing in contrast to the heat and humidity outside. Our senses will be in overload as we explore this fascinating city. We walk the streets at night in search of food, and head towards the market area.

In a dark laneway, we sense someone stalking us. We have been warned about muggings, pickpockets and unsavoury people. We turn, just as the person makes a move towards us. We have been targeted. What is he holding in his raised hand?

Find out what happens in part two next week.

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Written by MaxWilliams

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